High-SchoolBaseball: Addison Russell

MLB Draft Stock Watch: A final look

June, 1, 2012
6/01/12
10:15
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Carlos CorreaCal Sport Media via AP ImagesPuerto Rico Baseball Academy (Gurabo, Puerto Rico) shortstop Carlos Correa has seen his stock rise heading into Monday's MLB draft.
Each Friday since the beginning of May, Jason A. Churchill, who covers the MLB draft for ESPN Insider, has looked at the high school prospects whose stock is up and whose stock is down for the draft. Here's his final stock watch heading into the draft, which begins on June 4.

The 2012 MLB draft begins on Monday, so there’s little time, if any at all, for the top high school prospects to impress scouts.

But over the past week, a few elite players, including Carlos Correa and Byron Buxton, have managed to improve their already high draft stock with impressive workouts and performances.

Here’s a look at the players who’ve improved their stock and whose stock is down heading into Monday.

STOCK UP

Carlos Correa, SS, Puerto Rico Baseball Academy (Gurabo, Puerto Rico)
Correa's stock can't get much higher, but he's been mighty impressive in workouts for a handful of clubs selecting in the Top 10, including the Houston Astros, who own the No. 1 overall pick. Correa's chances to stick at shortstop aren't great -- one crosschecker opined those chances at "maybe 10 percent at best" -- but his bat is expected to play at third base, thanks to plus raw power and good all-around hitting skills. It's not out of the question that Correa is the top pick.

Tanner Rahier, SS, Palm Desert (Calif.)
Rahier showed up on the Stock Down list earlier this spring, but more clubs are showing optimism on his chances to remain at shortstop, which boosts his overall value. He has some pop, but his ability to square up the fastball and make consistent contact -- along with that shot to stay at shortstop -- could mean a first-round bonus for Rahier. Third base would likely be the next move should he outgrow short, but there has also been mention of the outfield, where his athleticism would play well and his arm strength would remain an asset.

Byron Buxton, OF, Appling County (Baxley, Ga.)
Like Correa, the two-sport star has been impressive in workouts and there is some buzz that the evaluations of Buxton by the top three clubs -- Houston, Minnesota and Seattle -- have soared since. There now appears to be zero chance Buxton gets past Seattle and a decent chance he goes No. 1 overall to the Astros.

STOCK DOWN

Lewis Brinson, OF, Coral Springs (Fla.)
Brinson is projectable, athletic and signable, but fellow prep outfielders David Dahl and Anthony Alford appear to have passed him up on several draft boards this spring. A few college outfielders are getting some additional attention, which also hurts Brinson's stock. Of course, a club looking to save a little bonus pool money could tab Brinson in the top 40 and spend the savings on other picks.

Cody Poteet, RHP, Christian High School (El Cajon, Calif.)
Poteet, listed at 6-foot-1 and 180 pounds, may be falling victim to the projectable arms ranked in the sandwich round through round 3, including California prepsters Shane Watson and Kyle Twomey, as well as Paul Blackburn and Ryan Burr. Poteet is still a lock to go in the top three rounds, unless his commitment to UCLA grows as the selections in the top 50 continue without his name being called.

Lucas Giolito, RHP, Harvard-Westlake (Studio City, Calif.)
Giolito started throwing and word is he's working out for clubs, but he's not expected to throw from a mound until well after the draft, which robs clubs the chance to see him in full action. Some teams drafting high don't appear willing to take the risk, but Giolito remains a signable talent with as much upside as any player in the entire class, college or high school, pitcher or hitter. It simply seems that he will not be a top-three pick, and perhaps not even in the 8-10 range.

HOLDING

Albert Almora, OF, Mater Academy (Hialeah Gardens, Fla.)
Gavin Cecchini, SS, Barbe (Lake Charles, La.)
Max Fried, LHP, Harvard-Westlake (Studio City, Calif.)
Courtney Hawkins, OF, Carroll (Corpus Christi, Texas)
Addison Russell, SS, Pace (Fla.)
Lucas Sims, RHP, Brookwood (Snellville, Ga.)
Stryker Trahan, C, Acadiana (Lafayette, La.)

Jason A. Churchill covers scouting, player development and the MLB draft for ESPN Insider, as well as Prospect Insider, where he's the founder and executive editor. You can follow him on Twitter @ProspectInsider and email him at churchill@prospectinsider.com.

MLB Draft Stock Watch: Olympia duo shines

May, 11, 2012
5/11/12
10:30
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Walker Weickel & Jesse WinkerMike Janes/Four Seam Images via AP ImagesOlympia (Orlando, Fla.) seniors Walker Weickel (left) and Jesse Winker have helped raise their draft stock while dominating for the No. 1 team in the FAB 50.
Each Friday from now until the end of May, Jason A. Churchill, who covers the MLB draft for ESPN Insider, will look at the high school prospects whose stock is up and whose stock is down heading into the draft, which begins on June 4.

The 2012 MLB draft is less than a month away and several top prospects are separating themselves from the pack, while others have seen their stock drop recently.

Prospects see their stock trend up or down in regards to the draft based on several key factors, including performance, signability and injury.

Then there’s the case of Nathan Kirby. We had mentioned this possibility last week, but the James River (Midlothian, Va.) right-hander is dead set on attending the University of Virginia and has told Major League Baseball that he will not be participating in the pre-draft program. Considered a Day 1 talent, Kirby is now virtually ineligible to be drafted, but could be a first-round pick in 2015.

Here’s an overall look at which prospects have helped and hurt their draft prospects since last week.

STOCK UP

Jesmuel Valentin, SS, Puerto Rico Baseball Academy (Gurabo, Puerto Rico)
The son of former big-league infielder Jose Valentin has had a strong season and showed well recently, including at the Excellence Tournament in Puerto Rico late last week. He's a teammate of Carlos Correa, perhaps the No. 2 overall prep prospect in the entire class, so Valentin plays mainly second base. He's capable at short, however, and has enough arm to play there long term. He's a switch hitter, and though there are some questions about the lack of future power, there is bat speed to support a pro career.

Jesse Winker, Olympia (Orlando, Fla.)
Winker has performed well down the stretch and early in the postseason for FAB 50 No. 1 Olympia, including a 2-for-3 effort last week in the quarterfinals. He went yard in that game, a three-run shot, and has been consistently productive over the past few weeks. Winker is a Day 1 threat.

Lance McCullers Jr., RHP, Jesuit (Tampa, Fla.)
McCullers’ domination – he didn’t allow an earned run during the regular season -- has continued during the postseason as he went all seven, fanning 13 and allowing just four hits. Amazingly, those were the most hits he’s allowed in a start all season. As one scout in attendance opined, “We got to see him really focus, and bow his neck today, and the results speak for themselves.”

Walker Weickel, RHP, Olympia (Orlando, Fla.)
Weickel, who started the spring as a potential top 15 pick before sliding a bit due to a velocity plateau, tossed a two-hit shutout last week in the regional quarterfinals to support Winker's offensive efforts. Weickel's still sitting 89-92 mph, but is showing better command of his fastball and breaking ball and projects well thanks to ideal size. The Miami commit could still land in Round 1 and is unlikely to be on the board when the second round begins.

Others Trending Up
Paul Blackburn, RHP, Heritage (Brentwood, Calif.)
Chase DeJong, RHP, Wilson (Long Beach, Calif.)
Steven Duggar, OF, Byrnes (Duncan, S.C.)
Daniel Robertston, SS/3B, Upland (Calif.)
Shane Watson, RHP, Lakewood (Calif.)

STOCK DOWN

Wyatt Mathisen, C/SS, Calallen (Corpus Christi, Texas)
Mathisen has played well this year, but coming into the season much of his draft stock was based on profiling well as a catcher. He's been used primarily at shortstop this season, which has robbed scouts the chance to see him behind the plate, where he could project as a first-round pick.

Addison Russell, SS/3B, Pace (Fla.)
Russell's stock doesn't appear to have taken a major hit, but a few area scouts have expressed their doubts on his future position more so than earlier in the year. He's still a potential first-round pick, but clubs will have to really like the bat if they aren't confident he will stick at shortstop.

Matt Smoral, LHP, Solon (Ohio)
Smoral has missed most of the season with a foot injury. And while that isn't likely to cost him first-round status, it may ultimately keep him out of the top half of the round. Scouts were unable to check the progress of his breaking ball and especially the changeup, and the left-hander has lost development time.

Others Trending Down
Clint Coulter, C, Union (Camas, Wash.)
David Dahl, OF, Oak Mountain (Birmingham, Ala.)
Kieran Lovegrove, RHP, Mission Viejo (Calif.)

Jason A. Churchill covers scouting, player development and the MLB draft for ESPN Insider, as well as Prospect Insider, where he's the founder and executive editor. You can follow him on Twitter @ProspectInsider and email him at churchill@prospectinsider.com.

MLB Draft Stock Watch: High School Look

March, 16, 2012
3/16/12
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Mitch NayMike Janes/Four Seam Images via AP ImagesHamilton (Chandler, Ariz.) senior third baseman Mitch Nay has seen his MLB draft stock rise thanks to a strong start to the 2012 season.
Jason A. Churchill, who covers the MLB draft for ESPN Insider, looks at the high school senior baseball prospects who’ve either helped or hurt their draft stock early in the 2012 season.

The Class of 2012 high school baseball class is one of great promise. While it might lack polish at the top, it offers a lot of projectable, star-level athletes with high ceilings. This class, however, won’t sort itself out until late April and May. From our rough sketch of the top 20 high school prospects that was compiled during the preseason (see below), we’ll look at who’s improving his stock and who’s fading in the early going.

Preseason Top 20

1. Lucas Giolito, RHP, Harvard-Westlake (Studio City, Calif.)
2. Byron Buxton, OF, Appling County (Baxley, Ga.)
3. Carlos Correa, SS, Puerto Rico Academy (Gurabo, Puerto Rico)
4. Walker Weickel, RHP, Olympia (Orlando, Fla.)
5. Max Fried, LHP, Harvard-Westlake (Studio City, Calif.)
6. Matt Smoral, LHP, Solon (Ohio)
7. Stryker Trahan, C, Acadiana (Lafayette, La.)
8. Joey Gallo, 1B, Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas)
9. Gavin Cecchini, SS, Barbe (Lake Charles, La.)
10. David Dahl, OF, Oak Mountain (Birmingham, Ala.)
11. Lucas Sims, RHP, Brookwood (Snellville, Ga.)
12. Hunter Virant, LHP, Camarillo (Calif.)
13. Rio Ruiz, 3B, Bishop Amat (La Puente, Calif.)
14. Zach Eflin, RHP, Hagerty (Oviedo, Fla.)
15. Clint Coulter, C, Union (Camas, Wash.)
16. Courtney Hawkins, OF, Carroll (Corpus Christi, Texas)
17. Addison Russell, SS, Pace (Fla.)
18. Carson Kelly, 3B, Westview (Portland, Ore.)
19. Tanner Rahier, SS, Palm Desert (Calif.)
20. Corey Seager, 3B, Northwest Cabarrus (Concord, N.C.)

STOCK UP

Mitch Nay, 3B/OF, Hamilton (Chandler, Ariz.)
Nay, Arizona's top prep prospect, has a shot to shoot up the charts with more performances like this week's outing, when he went deep to right-center -- the opposite field for Nay, who’s a right-handed batter -- for a three-run homer.

Ty Buttrey, RHP, Providence (Charlotte, N.C.)
Buttrey touched 95 mph on the radar gun last week and sat firmly in the low-90s. He fanned 12 in 5.2 innings in one start and offers projection at 6-foot-6 and just over 200 pounds. He’s committed to Arkansas, but he could move up into first-day draft consideration.

Eflin
In his latest start, Eflin, a 6-foot-5, 200-pound Central Florida commit, tossed six hitless frames and struck out 12. He has 29 strikeouts in 15 innings on the season, using a 90-94 mph fastball and a potentially plus curveball. He has yet to allow an earned run.

Weickel
Weickel, already a potential top-10 pick and a Miami commit, whiffed 10 in his start last week and has scouts drooling over what might be in a few years. "Sometimes I get lost and imagine him four years down the line," an area scout said. "He could be an absolute horse. The sky's the limit."

STOCK DOWN

Keon Barnum, 1B, King (Tampa, Fla.)
Barnum is hitting for average and power early on but is not showing a consistent ability to recognize and adjust to the breaking ball. Since he's already 19, Barnum has less developmental time ahead of him than most prep draft prospects and is limited to first base defensively, so he has to show even better at the plate than if he offered defensive value. He does possess plus bat speed, and the ball jumps off his barrel, but he's slumped a bit early this season.

Lance McCullers Jr., RHP, Jesuit (Tampa, Fla.)
While McCullers started this year 4-0, he lands on the Stock Down list because scouts hoped to see improvements in some key areas that have not yet been displayed. He's still inconsistent with his command and there are issues with his delivery, including a lot of effort, and the buzz is that he's headed for the bullpen as a professional.

Fried
After faring very well in his first few outings and impressing over the summer, fall and early winter, Fried has looked very pedestrian of late. He's sat 89-92 mph with his fastball and has not commanded his arsenal well in his last two starts, getting touched up in both. It's far too early to suggest this will ultimately impact his draft stock, but the trend isn't rosy.

Giolito
Giolito lands here based solely on his elbow injury. It's been described as a UCL sprain -- I coined it a potential "UCLA sprain" for its impact on Giolito's decision to sign a pro deal or head to UCLA next fall -- but sprains too often turn up as tears, which generally require Tommy John surgery. The right-hander is my No. 1 overall prospect, prep or college, and will remain at the top of the prep list until more is known of his condition.

If Giolito returns and shows he's 100 percent, he's still likely to be selected in the top 5-10 picks, if not the top three.

INJURIES

On top of Giolito's injury, there have been two others that may weaken the prep class and drop the stock of the players in question. Albuquerque Academy (Albuquerque, N.M.) catcher/infielder Alex Bregman broke the tip of his middle finger and is expected to miss the rest of the season. Showing the toughness clubs want to see, Bregman hurt the finger in pregame yet played and had two hits.

Ringgold (Ga.) left-hander Matthew Crownover, the nation’s No. 8 lefty, recently had Tommy John surgery and will miss the rest of the season. He wasn't considered a first-round talent, but he has touched 95 mph and had a shot to sneak into the top 100 despite his lack of ideal height at 6-0. He's likely headed for Clemson and will be draft eligible in 2015.

Jason A. Churchill covers scouting, player development and the MLB draft for ESPN Insider, as well as Prospect Insider, where he's the founder and executive editor. You can follow him on Twitter @ProspectInsider and email him at churchill@prospectinsider.com.

Shortstop Correa tops middle infielders list

March, 2, 2012
3/02/12
9:39
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Carlos CorreaCal Sport Media via AP ImagesPuerto Rico Baseball Academy (Gurabo, Puerto Rico) shortstop Carlos Correa is projected to be a top-10 pick in June's MLB draft.
Each week since early February, we’ve been taking a look at the elite Class of 2012 high school baseball prospects by ranking the Top 10 players at each position. This week, we unveil our final set of rankings with the Top 10 middle infielders, which is led by Puerto Rico Baseball Academy (Gurabo, Puerto Rico) shortstop Carlos Correa. The Miami commit is projected to be a top-10 pick in June’s MLB draft.

Note: The rankings below are partially based on each player's chance of remaining at a middle infield position well into professional baseball.

1. Carlos Correa, Puerto Rico Baseball Academy (Gurabo, Puerto Rico)
Correa's physical tools suggest he has a bright future at the plate and is top-10-pick material in June's draft. If the 6-foot-4, 190-pounder can stick at shortstop he could be a star, but he possesses the raw power to take his game to third base, if necessary. He has the hands, arm strength, foot speed and agility to play the position, but he could outgrow it in the long term. Correa is committed to Miami.

2. Gavin Cecchini, Barbe (Lake Charles, La.)
Cecchini is a gamer with plus makeup and good athleticism and has a chance to stick at shortstop as a result. His arm is good enough and he's accurate, and there's some pop in the bat thanks to sound mechanics and a solid hit tool. Cecchini is committed to Ole Miss.

3. Addison Russell, Pace (Fla.)
Russell looks more like a third baseman than a shortstop, and his power follows suit. But he moves his feet well and has terrific hands, so there's a chance for him to stick at short in pro ball as long as he remains in top condition. Auburn will miss out on a premium recruit if Russell signs a pro deal this summer.

4. C.J. Hinojosa, Klein Collins (Spring, Texas)
Hinojosa has the arm and hands to play shortstop, and would likely do so if he heads to Austin to play for the Longhorns -- something he nearly did as an early enrollee -- but his thicker build may push him to second base or the hot corner down the line. He squares up fastballs regularly and is considered a tough sign due to his college commitment.

5. Jesmuel Valentine-Diaz, Puerto Rico Baseball Academy (Gurabo, Puerto Rico)
Valentine-Diaz is a switch-hitter with a traditional split; he's stronger from his natural right side in terms of consistency and contact, but there's a little more pop from the left side. He doesn't stride, which can be good and bad. He's quick in the field and on the bases and could earn his way into consideration as a second- or third-round pick. He'll be LSU's starting shortstop in 2013 if he passes on the pro game for now, and he could use that time in school to get stronger.

6. Brandon Lopez, American Heritage (Plantation, Fla.)
Lopez is a bit raw in some areas, but once he defines his future -- he's also a right-handed pitcher who has touched the low-90s -- his game may round into shape. He has good hands and a quick bat at the plate and despite a stiff front arm his swing finishes quick and with good plane producing line drives and hefty fly balls. He tends to over-stride a bit, but that's generally an easy fix.

7. Tanner Rahier, Palm Desert (Calif.)
Rahier brings athleticism, strength and good defensive mechanics to the table, but most scouts bet on him ending up at third base as he matures physically -- he's already over 200 pounds and stands 6-foot-2. He has a plus arm and above-average power potential that he could take to the University of San Diego next fall. If Rahier was a better bet to stick at shortstop, he'd rank higher here because he has a better bat than the three prospects ranked ahead of him.

8. Avery Romero, Pedro Menendez (St. Augustine, Fla.)
Like many prep shortstops, Romero may have to move to second or third base, but the tools are there for his bat to play anywhere. He has a strong arm and average speed, but his hands are soft and his release is quick, though he drops his arm angle a little more than scouts prefer.

9. Richie Martin, Bloomingdale (Valrico, Fla.)
Martin, a Florida signee, gets the most out of his 5-foot-10, 170-pound frame, but could stand to get stronger. He's good with the glove and his release is quick, but a move to second base due to long-term arm strength may be necessary.

10. Tim Lopes, Edison (Huntington Beach, Calif.)
Lopes possesses good instincts on defense and his approach to the game suggests he's a high-makeup talent whose tools will play up as a result. He's not likely long for shortstop but handles the bat well and makes consistent contact.

Jason A. Churchill covers scouting, player development and the MLB draft for ESPN Insider, as well as Prospect Insider, where he's the founder and executive editor. You can follow him on Twitter @ProspectInsider and email him at churchill@prospectinsider.com.

The Starting Nine: Preseason look

February, 29, 2012
2/29/12
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The Starting NineMike Janes/Four Seam Images via AP Images, Scott Kurtz/ESPNHS(From left to right) Byron Buxton, Lucas Giolito and Joey Gallo are the three top preseason candidates for The Diamond Gem, the title bestowed upon the nation's most outstanding baseball player based on on-field performance.

With spring right around the corner, ESPNHS has begun its search for the nation’s top high school baseball player, regardless of school year and based solely on on-field performance.

Every two weeks, we’ll rank the nine players in order in The Starting Nine. And at the end of the season, whoever is in the top spot will be crowned The Diamond Gem, our award given to the nation’s most outstanding player.

So to kick it off, we give you our preseason Starting Nine. Leading the way is Harvard-Westlake (Studio City, Calif.) senior Lucas Giolito, the nation’s top right-handed pitcher who dominated opposing hitters last season and has looked very much like an early first-round pick in the early going this year.

The Starting Nine: Preseason

1. Lucas Giolito, Harvard-Westlake (Studio City, Calif.)
RHP, Senior
Why he’s here: The nation’s top right-hander, Giolito went 9-0 last year with a 1.00 ERA with 78 strikeouts in 70.1 innings. He also pitched four complete games, three of which were shutouts.

2. Joey Gallo, Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas)
1B/3B/RHP, Senior
Why he’s here: The top player on the top team in the POWERADE FAB 50, Gallo hit .471 last year with 25 homers and 78 RBIs while leading Gorman to its sixth straight state title. He also was 3-1 on the bump with a 1.12 ERA and 29 strikeouts in 18.2 innings.

3. Byron Buxton, Appling County (Baxley, Ga.)
OF, Senior
Why he’s here: The nation’s top outfielder and potential top 10 pick in June’s MLB draft flirted with the .600 mark last season (he finished hitting .594) and clubbed 10 homers while driving in 48 runs.

4. Lance McCullers Jr., Jesuit (Tampa, Fla.)
RHP/SS, Senior
Why he’s here: The hard-throwing right-hander (he’s hit 100 mph on the radar gun) went 5-2 with a 1.71 ERA and 70 strikeouts in 45 innings last season for the Class 4A state runner-up. He also hit .422 with seven homers and 24 RBIs.

5. Kayden Porter, Spanish Fork (Utah)
RHP/OF, Senior
Why he’s here: Porter picked up ESPNHS National Junior of the Year honors last year after leading Spanish Fork to its third straight state title. He went 9-1 with 85 strikeouts in 59 innings and hit .570 with 14 homers and 50 RBIs.

6. Gavin Cecchini, Barbe (Lake Charles, La.)
SS, Senior
Why he’s here: Leader of Louisiana powerhouse picked up Gatorade State Player of the Year honors last season after hitting .548 with 10 homers, 41 RBIs and 32 stolen bases.

7. Max Fried, Harvard-Westlake (Studio City, Calif.)
LHP, Senior
Why he’s here: The nation’s top lefty, Fried went 7-3 with a 1.31 ERA and 100 strikeouts in 69.2 innings at Montclair Prep (Van Nuys, Calif.). He transferred to Harvard-Westlake after Montclair Prep cut its athletics program.

8. Kyle Carter, Columbus (Ga.)
OF/LHP, Senior
Why he’s here: Carter, who starred on the Columbus team that won the 2006 Little League World Series, set a single-season school record with 22 homers last season to help Columbus earn its second straight state title and 11th overall. He also hit .467 with 47 RBIs and went 9-4 on the mound with a 2.33 ERA.

9. Courtney Hawkins, Carroll (Corpus Christi, Texas)
RHP/OF, Senior
Why he’s here: The leader of the No. 4 team in the POWERADE FAB 50, Hawkins led Carroll to a state title as a sophomore and the state semifinals last season. As a junior, he hit .410 with 15 homers, 49 RBIs and 22 stolen bases and was 10-2 with a 2.35 ERA and 81 strikeouts.

ON DECK
Another 25 players we’re tracking to begin the 2012 season

OF Albert Almora, Mater Academy (Hialeah Gardens, Fla.), Sr.
RHP Freddy Avis, Menlo School (Atherton, Calif.), Sr.
1B Keon Barnum, King (Tampa, Fla.), Sr.
RHP Ryan Burr, Highlands Ranch (Colo.), Sr.
C Zach Collins, American Heritage (Plantation, Fla.), Jr.
C Clint Coulter, Union (Camas, Wash.), Sr.
OF David Dahl, Oak Mountain (Birmingham, Ala.), Sr.
RHP Ty Hensley, Santa Fe (Edmond, Okla.), Sr.
3B/RHP Carson Kelly, Westview (Portland, Ore.), Sr.
LHP Nathan Kirby, James River (Midlothian, Va.), Sr.
C Jeremy Martinez, Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.), Jr.
C/SS/RHP Wyatt Mathisen, Calallen (Corpus Christi, Texas), Sr.
OF/RHP Ty Moore, Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.), Sr.
3B/OF Mitch Nay, Hamilton (Chandler, Ariz.), Sr.
1B/RHP Matt Olson, Parkview (Lilburn, Ga.), Sr.
3B Rio Ruiz, Bishop Amat (La Puente, Calif.), Sr.
SS Addison Russell, Pace (Fla.), Sr.
RHP Lucas Sims, Brookwood (Snellville, Ga.), Sr.
LHP Matt Smoral, Solon (Ohio), Sr.
1B/RHP Jake Thompson, Rockwall-Heath (Heath, Texas), Sr.
RHP/OF Keegan Thompson, Cullman (Ala.), Jr.
C Stryker Trahan, Acadiana (Lafayette, La.), Sr.
LHP Hunter Virant, Camarillo (Calif.), Sr.
RHP Walker Weickel, Olympia (Orlando, Fla.), Sr.
OF/LHP Jesse Winker, Olympia (Orlando, Fla.), Sr.

McCullers Jr. is top Florida diamond star

December, 29, 2011
12/29/11
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Avery RomeroScott Kurtz/ESPNHSPedro Menendez (St. Augustine, Fla.) senior infielder and Florida recruit Avery Romero hit .458 and stole 13 bases as a junior.

Last June, the state of Florida's prep stars populated 10 of the first 90 selections in the draft, including three of the top 14 and two in the top 10. The Sunshine State is always a hotbed for baseball prospects, and the class of 2012 is likely to produce another strong set of talents littering the early rounds.

Here's a look at the Top 10 Florida high school prospects from the Class of 2012.

1. Lance McCullers Jr., RHP, Jesuit (Tampa, Fla.)

The son of former MLB pitcher Lance McCullers Sr., McCullers has potential as a power bat, but his fastball has sniffed triple digits and he’s flashed an above-average breaking ball. Scouts are split on his future as the spring nears, but he’s a surefire first-round arm — and could break into the top 10 — for clubs that view him as a long-term starter. The Florida commit struck out 79 in 52 innings last year while hitting .422 with seven homers and 24 RBIs.

2. Walker Weickel, RHP, Olympia (Orlando, Fla.)

At 6-foot-6, Weickel is a projectable arm who has shown a consistent low-90s fastball with good downhill plane. He's displayed depth with a slow curveball and a change that lacks sink but brings deception due to his arm speed. Weickel, a Miami commit, has first-round abilities and shouldn't stay on the board long come June.

3. Keon Barnum, 1B, King (Tampa, Fla.)

Barnum has plus raw power and a major-league frame at 6-foot-5 and 230 pounds. He's a decent athlete but profiles best at first base, which will limit his value come draft day. But a better year hitting to all fields and making contact could put him into the top 30. Barnum, a Miami recruit, batted .491 last year with six homers and 27 RBIs.

4. Jesse Winker, OF, Olympia (Orlando, Fla.)

Winker's strengths include above-average arm strength and good bat speed. Walker Weickel’s high school teammate runs well and shows good instincts in center field. But if his projected power develops, he could move to a corner, where he may be a plus defender long term. The left-handed hitting Winker, if he doesn't sign a pro deal next summer, is headed to Gainesville to play for the Gators.

5. Lewis Brinson, OF, Coral Springs (Fla.)

Brinson brings mixed reviews at this stage of the evaluation process, displaying plus athleticism and five-tool potential. At 6-foot-4, he may ultimately outgrow center field, but his arm should fit in right, provided his raw power plays in pro ball, too. Brinson has been timed in the 60 at 6.5 seconds, which is among the fastest in the entire draft class.

6. Albert Almora, OF, Mater Academy (Hialeah Gardens, Fla.)

Almora brings plenty of upside to the table, including plus speed and a plus throwing arm. He’s committed to Miami, but his strong, quick wrists and a consistent swing may be too much to pass up on draft day. He runs good routes in the outfield and may be able to handle center in the big leagues. Almora was named tournament MVP after leading the USA Baseball 18U National Team to a gold medal this fall in the COPABE 18U/AAA Pan American Championships.

7. Avery Romero, 2B/SS, Pedro Menendez (St. Augustine, Fla.)

Generally speaking, scouts believe Romero has to move off shortstop as a pro, likely sliding to third base where his plus arm and sound fundamentals should play well. His hit tool is his calling card at present and more power should develop as he improves his plate skills. Romero, a potential top 50 selection, is also committed to the University of Florida. He hit .458 last year with five homers, 18 RBIs and 13 stolen bases.

8. Addison Russell, SS, Pace (Fla.)

Like Romero, Russell appears to be a candidate to move to third base at the next levels, and there's enough arm strength and athleticism to warrant a shot in the outfield if necessary. He possesses well above-average bat speed that may turn into enticing power come draft day. Russell, who signed on to play at Auburn, starred with Almora on the USA Baseball National Team that won the Pan Am title.

9. Adrian Marin, SS, Gulliver Prep (Pinecrest, Fla.)

Marin is a plus runner with some quick-twitch actions that suggest he's got more pop in his bat than his 170-pound frame would otherwise suggest. He’s drawn comparisons to former first-round pick and Florida product Nick Franklin along the way. Marin has a good shot to stick at shortstop and if a club believes he will mature physically and hit enough, he could be a top 50 pick. If he doesn’t like his draft position, he's got a full ride to Miami waiting for him.

10. Hayden Hurst, RHP, Bolles (Jacksonville, Fla.)

Hurst had plenty of competition for the No. 10 spot, mainly from All Saints’ (Winter Haven, Fla.) right-hander Carson Fulmer. Hurst wins out due to the vast concerns that Fulmer's delivery will relegate him to relief work down the line. Hurst has touched 94 mph in the past and is projectable at 6-foot-5 and 235 pounds. There's life and sink to the heater and he also offers a developing curveball. Hurst is committed to Florida State, but he has a chance to go early enough on Day 2 to warrant signing a pro contract.

On the Brink

David Thompson, 3B, Westminster Christian (Palmetto Bay, Fla.)
Tomas Nido, C, Orangewood Christian (Maitland, Fla.)
Nick Basto, SS, Archbishop McCarthy (Southwest Ranches, Fla.)
Brandon Lopez, 2B, Miramar (Fla.)
Zach Eflin, RHP, Hagerty (Oviedo, Fla.)
Carson Fulmer, RHP, All Saints’ Academy (Winter Haven, Fla.)
Alfredo Escalara, 3B, IMG Baseball Academy (Bradenton, Fla.)
Marcus Brakeman, RHP, Shorecrest Prep (St. Petersburg, Fla.)
Max Foody, LHP, IMG Baseball Academy (Bradenton, Fla.)

Jason A. Churchill covers scouting, player development and the MLB Draft for ESPN Insider, as well as Prospect Insider, where he's the founder and executive editor. You can follow him on Twitter @ProspectInsider and email him at churchill@prospectinsider.com.

Team USA reflects on winning gold

December, 6, 2011
12/06/11
9:59
AM ET
USA Baseball 18U National TeamCourtesy of El UniversalThe USA Baseball 18U National Team outscored its nine opponents 88-8 en route to a gold medal at the Pan American Championships.
Gavin Cecchini didn’t mind the elbow to the face or three 180-pounders on his back. Carson Kelly wasn’t afraid of the bodies colliding on top of him or the headlocks that followed.

The USA Baseball 18U National Team teammates will never forget this dog pile.

“When I look back 10 years from now I will remember the dog pile more than anything,” said Cecchini, a senior at Barbe (Lake Charles, La.). “It was the best feeling. There is nothing like winning a gold medal.”

The 20-plus person tower in the infield featured some of the best prep baseball players in the United States, and it capped a week where Team USA dominated the field at the COPABE 18U/AAA Pan American Championships in Cartagena, Colombia.

The exclamation point was a 12-2 win over Canada in the gold-medal game last week to complete a perfect 9-0 record in the tournament that featured teams from all over the world.

“It doesn’t get any better than this,” said Kelly, a senior at Westview (Portland, Ore.). “Every moment was incredible. It will be something I talk about for the rest of my life. I will remember it all.”

It won’t be hard to forget for the players and coaches who wore red, white and blue. Just check the box scores.

The American’s outscored their opponents 88-8, beating four of them by way of the mercy rule. On offense they combined to hit .353, and the pitching staff finished with a 1.00 ERA.

Between the chalk, they stole 45 bases, while defensively they only committed two errors.

“We absolutely demolished teams down there,” said Cecchini, an Ole Miss signee. “To tell you the truth, I thought the games would be much closer. But our hitters were awesome and our pitchers were unbelievable.”

Kelly was one of those pitchers. The Oregon signee earned the win on the mound in the gold-medal game and also had the ball when USA beat host country Colombia in front of a national TV audience and a sold out stadium of more than 13,0000 fans.

“It was a blessing for me and very exciting for me to get to pitch in those two games,” he said. “It’s not very often you get to represent your country. So I wanted to make sure we came out on top.”

Offensively, the Americans were paced by Mater Academy (Hialeah Gardens, Fla.) senior outfielder Albert Almora, who was named the tournament’s MVP. The Miami recruit and Team USA veteran hit .421 and led the team in extra-base hits (6) and RBI (11).

Cecchini was named to the all-tournament team along with Olympia (Orlando, Fla.) senior pitcher Jesse Winker, Albuquerque Academy (Albuquerque, N.M.) third baseman Alex Bregman and Pace (Pace, Fla.) senior shortstop Addison Russell.

“Everyone on are team was not good — they were great,” Kelly said. “I said to myself, ‘Wow, these guys know how to play baseball.’”

Team USA manager and three-time World Series champion Scott Brosius said he was impressed with the focus and talent level of his team, which consisted of many projected first-round MLB draft picks.

“It was definitely exciting to watch this group,” he said. “We hadn’t played a lot together, so we had a few question marks heading in. So to come in and win gold in a dominating fashion felt real rewarding.”

Away from the diamond, Team USA didn’t have it as easy. Cecchini said fans “were brutal” and felt that “everyone was against us and tried to throw us off our game.” When Team USA arrived in Colombia, they were given a different schedule that included an 8 a.m. game 12 hours after arriving in South America.

“That was just the first of many curveballs we were thrown,” Brosius said. “But we prepared to expect the unexpected, so we just rolled with what was thrown at us.”

The Americans were the only team who did not have a day off, Cecchini said. Plus, Team USA had to play four morning games in a row, where in some cases they were waking up at 6 a.m. to make hour-long bus trips.

“They tried everything to take us away from our game,” Cecchini said. “Cold showers, wet clothes, dirty water. They tried to mess with Team USA. We got the last laugh.”

And a memorable dog pile.

Team USA wins Pan Am Championship

November, 30, 2011
11/30/11
12:30
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Pace (Pace, Fla.) senior infielder Addison Russell blasted a grand slam as the USA Baseball 18U National Team exploded for seven first-inning runs en route to a 12-2 win over Canada on Sunday in the championship game of the COPABE 18U/AAA Pan American Championships in Cartagena, Colombia.

Westview (Portland, Ore.) senior right-hander Carson Kelly tossed six innings of four-hit ball and fanned five to earn the win, his second of the tournament.

Meanwhile, Mater Academy (Hialeah Gardens, Fla.) senior outfielder Albert Almora was named tournament MVP after batting .421 with 11 RBI in nine games, all of which Team USA won.

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